I trust you’re wondering by now what happened to the guy I slept with, that only guy I ever slept with, the one I mentioned in passing at the beginning of this story, and the one I even told my English high school teacher about. Of course I did not mention the sex part to her – it would have been awfully and dreadfully rude of me – about how painful it was, how discomforting, how debasing, how fantastic. Telling her about the taxi driver who also happened to be the member of some city council in Florence, and who also happened to have parents who owned a gorgeous house by the sea, was my way of coming out to her (I used the same kind of technique on a couple of occasions). I’ll keep some of the details about this particular guy to myself because I wouldn’t want people to recognize him. Let him have his privacy, his career might suffer. And besides, let’s keep the aura of romanticism I’m trying to draw around his pretty little face vivid and kicking.
In fact, when I told my English teacher about him, implying that I was gay, her reaction was, in a way, one you’d expect. You know, she said, this whole thing might be just a phase. Have you actually tried going out with girls? If you haven’t, maybe you should, you know, see what game the other team is playing. That sort of thing. I was okay with it, of course, and told her that I had tried playing for the other team and things just didn’t work out. The moment I said it, we were in a restaurant and I was having a salad and a lemonade and she was having pasta, I was actually thinking of the fact that I couldn’t get hard in the vicinity of boobs and batting eyelashes, and that was the main point. I got the same kind of reaction from a good friend from college and he had used the same words, more or less, obliquely implying that I was missing out on an experience that would have definitely shaped who I turned out to be. He then told me that he was totally okay with it not out of a personal belief but mainly because on his frequent travels to the United Kingdom he had seen stuff. It was all good as long as I kept certain things to myself. I made a joke about wearing gloves around him and he told me I was being dramatic. I have not heard from him since. (Remember when I told you that you have to be straight first in order to be gay?)
Then, while I was having my salad, something really weird happened, something that I have been unable to decipher to this present day, and I’m asking everybody about it, especially those people who find themselves in a relationship. My English teacher asked me what was so special about this guy, since I had called him boyfriend in our conversation, and my answer contained humungous amounts of shit, the kind you find in fairytales and cheesy movies. Oh, you know, he was smart, and kind, and good-looking, and made me feel protected. I believe I even gestured with my hands to show how safe I felt around him, a kind of self hug. The kind of answers we give to questions like those are pretty much on the same line of reasoning, namely based on things we had previously heard from others, when in fact we do not experience them at all (maybe I wanted to feel protected), and they have zero emotional impact on the person listening. I tried asking this question in other conversations with both straight and gay people. What do you see, or rather, what do you feel when you look at the person you are in a relationship with? What made you fall in love with that particular person and not somebody else?
The answers that I’ve been served have always been so inconclusive that I can’t even remember them right now. I couldn’t even tell you what they were, they were that lame. But they were something like this: oh, I like the way she smiles, it makes me feel warm on the inside; I like the way he looks, and when we are on an escalator he would always stand on the upper step and kiss me on the top of my head; I feel comfortable in his presence, and he does all these little things for me. I always nodded and said I see thoughtfully when in fact I didn’t see anything except the things that were happening at the time around me, such as the fact that a dog was taking a dump on the street and the owner was getting ready to clean up the mess, a green plastic bag in his hand. Love is so much more beautiful when you don’t have it, a wise man would have said. But I am no wise man.
Anyways, back to the taxi driver. I had met him on a gay dating site, the one destined for bears, and muscle bears, and otters, and daddies, and admirers and chasers etc. Now this guy, he was an admirer, and he was tall and thin and had long hair and when he smiled he resembled a mouse, and he was studying design. He also liked drinking milk and eating chocolate chip cookies after a workout (he was a big fan of calcetto, soccer but with fewer players). And I was the lucky guy he chose out of the hundreds of chubby guys on that dating site. We chatted for a long while, for more than a year, before we met in person, and we had never exchanged dick pics, not even one, though we did occasionally mention dicks in casual conversation. He was almost unreal. There he was, I thought at the time, my knight in shining armor, complete with job and personal car, who didn’t ask for dick pics and was not horny all the time. We exchanged phone numbers, we added each other on Facebook, he told me about his sister who was a fashion designer or something like that (he was still in the closet with his family, as was I), I saw pictures of him at a wedding, and I cringed every time I saw a chubby guy around him in one of those pictures. He complimented my handwriting and even suggested he might create a font that would mime it (but that was too complicated).
One night I woke up sweating and screaming from a terrible nightmare in which my grandmother was telling me and my brother that the next day we were going to be buried alive, and I was thinking of ways to poison ourselves so as not to go through the terrible ordeal of suffocation. I did not wake my parents, I did not switch on the light, I just stood there in my bed trying to convince myself that there were no monsters in my room, and that darkness had only been rendered terrifying by the nightmare. It was still my old room, which was actually a kitchen because my brother and his fiancée were still living with us and I was no longer able to use the second bedroom. But my grandmother’s voice kept returning and so I decided to text him and tell him about the dream. It was three in the morning so I didn’t think he would reply, but then he did, and he tried comforting me by telling me to imagine that he was there next to me, and that there was nothing to be afraid of, and strangely enough I fell back asleep. The next day there was a rigidity in my head that could only have been an effect of the dream. Deep down I feared my grandmother and felt guilty about my sexual preferences. Sigmund Freud, analyze this.
I really wanted to meet this guy and thought of all kinds of ways of doing it until we both decided that it was high time we spent some time together. I lied to my parents telling them that I was going to spend a couple of days with some university friends at the seaside, and with my scholarship money I bought a train ticket to Florence. The guy did not live in Florence but in a small city close by, so I had to take another local train in order to reach my destination. When I got to the small paesino the scenery was eerily dramatic, the kind you’d see in movies taking place in Italy. It was incredibly hot, it was hilly, Italian style, and the train station was high up on a sort of concrete bridge. I got down to the street level and found myself alone on the platform, no sign of other human beings on at least a mile radius (it was also lunchtime, and in Italy streets are pretty deserted at that time of the day). A few minutes later I got a text from him informing me that he was coming, he just had to leave his dog at his grandmother’s house. He even has a dog, I thought, that’s just perfect, and I imagined us later on staying in bed with the dog, or having sex while the dog was watching us.
And then he came and we awkwardly shook hands and kissed on the cheek the way Italian guys usually do (even without being gay). In the car we listened to music and he held his hand on my knee while driving and for a long moment I thought that I had finally achieved the kind of happiness everyone coveted. I had finally found a guy I liked, and he liked me back, a guy that did not have weird fetishes, he was no enema lover, no feet licker (except maybe for the fact that he liked chubby guys). The drive to the seaside was about an hour long and he kept his hand on my knee even when the other drivers around us seemed to be looking at us. I know I was a little paranoid about the other drivers, but in those moments I felt like vanishing because I was ashamed. I wanted to push his hand away, or somehow signal to him that I was uncomfortable because of the other drivers in traffic. He did not get the signal, and he took his hand off my knee only when he needed to change gears.
The moment we got into the house, which was a beautiful summer house hidden from the street by bushy trees with leaves that seemed oily in the scorching sun, he started kissing me. We sat at the kitchen table and in between kisses I was trying to tell him that I wasn’t that good at kissing, and that he was the second guy I had kissed in my entire life, and that I might disappoint him from that point of view. He kindly dismissed my remarks telling me that I should stop worrying about it. I felt ashamed and awkward, not knowing where to put my hands, and what to do with my body. His tongue felt so foreign and out of place in my mouth, his saliva salty. After showing me the house, which wasn’t that big as it seemed when I had a first glimpse of it, he told me that I can unpack my things. He stretched on the bed and watched me unpack, indicating where I should put my things. Just leave it there or, you can put that in the bathroom. There was a boyish ease in his manner, in the way he wiggled his toes on the bed, the way he threw his duffle bag on the floor by the dresser the moment he got into the room like a teenage boy returning from football practice.
Come here, he finally said when my things were in place mixed with his, and I stretched next to him, freaking out on the inside. His body had a bony hardness when I put my head on his chest, and he kept pulling my face up to kiss me. But then it wasn’t about me anymore, it was all about him. Now take off your shirt. Now take off your pants. Now get rid of that underwear as well. Silently, I obeyed him, and one by one he mirrored all of my movements. I’ll probably never know what he felt in those moments, we never talked about it, and the last time I talked to him was a few months ago while I was still in New York City and he told me to stay there and never come back. But I believe there was a time during the first encounter when it wasn’t about either of us. I felt disembodied to say the least, as if there was something else inside me that moved and told me what to do. Now go down on him, feel him, do what he says. And in a way I felt like I needed that abandon because in that abandon I felt as if I did not hate myself anymore, for an instant I felt like everything was going to be okay, for a moment it felt like I could finally find myself on the other side of okay. And I’ll keep some of the details to myself. I’ll leave you with this mental image though: after he came he fell asleep and snored, cum pooling in his bellybutton.
The abandon continued for the next days. He slept in late, I woke up early to write about the experience but couldn’t put it into words. My guts squirmed and I couldn’t keep my feet steady. Some might say that I was somehow happy, but I didn’t think of happiness at that point, this was real, much more than the very abstract notion of happiness. We went to the beach and I watched him swim. That boyish manner returned when he jumped into the water careful not to splash it over the other swimmers. He fished a sea urchin out of the water and showed it to me. We stood on the docks in the sun with our feet in the water and when nobody was looking he put his foot under mine and tapped lightly against it. Back at the house we watched Eddie Izzard and random episodes from Game of Thrones, especially those where Samwell Tarly (John Bradley) was on. He sighed at the sight of him and purred like a cat, a deep sexy grunt boiling into his chest. He played games on his iPhone and told me he was irreparably busy. I made a video of him which I still have, even to this day. That digital memory of him has somehow managed to survive the irrational wrath I felt when I knew it was all over. Then we had sex again, Eddie Izzard still talking in the background, and I might have laughed at some of his jokes while I was on my knees doing things to him. We might have been watching episodes of Little Britain while doing it. There’s-a-limit-to-my-honesty is the best policy.
On our last day together we stained the sheets and had to wash them, dry them in the sun. I felt so ashamed of it because he had told me the previous day that his sister was going to use the house later on in the afternoon, and I was afraid she was going to notice it. I never knew whether she did or not. I felt ashamed because I knew it was my fault. I had been sloppy. I should have suggested we put a towel underneath us. We rushed to the train station. I almost missed my train. When I finally got back home that night I did not miss him, at all, even though at the train station he hugged me and I felt his voice trembling in his chest. I felt anger mostly, and fear, I felt as if he had stolen something away from me because I knew that I was never going to see him again. I tried crying but couldn’t no matter how hard I tried. I feared STDs, I feared that he had done something to me behind my back. The next months were excruciatingly painful, the months in which I was trying to convince myself I had to do an HIV test. I desperately looked for symptoms, read articles on the internet and fell deep into my well of despair every time I felt that I had in fact experienced some of the symptoms I read about in those articles. Then I took the test, along with a couple of other tests, and they all came out negative. The envelope I was given with my results in it was white and felt like a closure. Before opening it I thought that whatever was inside it would constitute the expression of whatever we shared in those moments at the seaside. And I came clean out of it, as if it had never happened. Only after this final confirmation we could both carry on with our lives. The words on that slip of paper were our way of saying goodbye.
Slowly he vanished the way colors fade when exposed to direct sunlight. It took longer for him to reply to my texts, he never called, I never called, and in that silence there was a unspoken finality, akin to a prolonged breathing out. It was only later on, much later on, that he told me he had in fact fallen in love with somebody else. He did not say I should stop contacting him, nothing of the sort, but our conversation fell into long silences, and I let it drop. It was time to let go. There is no proper way to let go, one merely lets go, and that’s it.
Years later, when I first read Andrew Holleran’s Dancer from the Dance, I felt like John Schaeffer about the whole affair. Like Schaeffer, I thought of writing love letters to my Malone, but my Malone was exactly like that fictional Malone from the novel. “‘Forget the sheer style, and beauty,’ resumed Malone, ‘in this room. It’s all we’ll ever see of the Beatific Vision!'” The room Malone is referring to here was full of gorgeous men, and he was talking to a younger Schaeffer, who was up and ready to forget about the Beatific Vision and be Malone’s only lover. Enjoy it while you can. I know he’d reject me now because I’m no longer chubby and I’m no longer able to accommodate his fetish for baby fat, but at times longing washes over me. I don’t miss him, don’t get me wrong, I miss the way I felt about him, the abandon, the way we played house like children on a boring summer afternoon.